Gaohu

Title

Gaohu

Physical description

Gaohu is a high-pitched Chinese two-stringed fiddle, a member of the huqin family (see erhu). Its structure is very similar to the erhu, except the gaohu’s body is slightly smaller and has no back close piece (yin chuang). In the second half of the twentieth century, some musicians have added a small bamboo tube inside the gaohu’s body, making the sound in the high position even brighter. The gaohu pictured here is one such instrument.

Musical, Cultural, and Social Contexts

Closely related to the Guangdong province, the gaohu, with its distinct timbre, is associated with a distinct regional identity. It is used mostly in Cantonese music ensemble, Chaozhou music ensemble, as well as in accompanying Cantonese opera and Chao opera. In addition, it is also used as a solo instrument and as “first violin” in the modern Chinese instrumental orchestra.

Historical background

The gaohu is a rather recent invention derived from erhu. It was created in the 1920s by Lu Wencheng (1898-1981), a well-known Cantonese music musician and composer. Lu changed the original silk strings to steel strings, and also adopted the playing position of holding the gaohu’s body in between the knees. 

Playing technique

In playing, the gaohu is held in between the knees to reduce the unwanted noise. The Gaohu’s tembre, high and focused, makes it suitable for lyrical, quick or ornamented melodies. For its bowing and left hand techniques, see erhu.

Notation

see erhu

Tuning

It’s tuning, a1-e2 or g1-d2, is a fifth or a fourth higher than that of erhu. The gaohu has a range of three octaves as well (a1 to e4 or g1 to d4).

Geography

China

Classification

321.313 (chordophone) Spike tube lute: the handle passes diametrically through the walls of a tube

Ensemble

Chinese Music Ensemble

Materials

Wood, snakeskin, reed, horsehair or nylon, silk, steel

Bibliography

Jonathan Stock, 1996. Musical Creativity in Twentieth-Century China: Abing, His Music, and Its Changing Meanings. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

Terrence Liu, 2002. "Erhu." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol. 7. East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea, ed. by Robert  Provine, Yoshihiko Tokumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben, New York: Routledge, 175-8.

Su Zheng, 2002. "Musical Instruments." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music, Vol. 7. East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea, ed. by Robert  Provine, Yoshihiko Tokumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben, New York: Routledge, 79-83.

Citation

“Gaohu,” Wesleyan University Virtual Instrument Museum 2.0, accessed April 13, 2024, https://wesomeka.wesleyan.edu/vim2/items/show/71.